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Review: Neighbors (2014)

Neighbors (2014)

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Premise: Homeowners with a newborn baby (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) have their lives disrupted when a college fraternity moves in next door.

What Works: Neighbors is not a sequel to Knocked Up but it very well could have been. This picture stars Seth Rogan as a character who is virtually identical to his role in the 2007 film (although so are most of Rogan’s roles) and the movie recalls the best of the Judd Apatow brand. Although Apatow is not credited on Neighbors it was made by his protégés, including star Seth Rogan, producer Evan Goldberg, director Nicholas Stoller, and screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. This film has the sexual and gross out humor of Apatow’s work but it also has the humanity that set many of his films apart from other entries in the comedy genre. First and foremost, Neighbors is successful as a comedy. It is very funny and has constant gags. But as outrageous as the film gets, the premise is grounded in reality. Even if most of us have never lived next door to a fraternity most have had a negative experience with a neighbor and the filmmakers successfully exploit first world suburban problems and the generational conflict for its humor. The main conflict of Neighbors plays out between the fraternity president, played by Zac Efron, and the early-middle aged couple played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne. Rogan is in his usual routine but he’s used a little differently here. In earlier roles he would typically be one of the fraternity guys but casting Rogan as the uncool dad allows a new approach for his usual shtick. However, the acting revelations of Neighbors are found in Rose Byrne and Zac Efron. Byrne is an actress whose done all sorts of movies from comedies like Bridesmaids to epics like Troy but she’s never been able to put her comedic abilities to full effect like she is in Neighbors. Zac Efron is also impressive and this is probably his best performance in a feature film. Efron gets delightfully mean spirited but the story allows him to be more than a frat boy stereotype and the film gradually reveals much more about him and the fleeting nature of youth. That is important because a superficial appraisal of Neighbors might lump it with dreck like Project X and 21 & Over but this movie is quite the opposite. There is a lot of drunken stupidity in Neighbors but the filmmakers and the characters of this film come to recognize their stupidity and face the consequences of it.

What Doesn’t: Those viewing Neighbors is its theatrical release were more than likely exposed to its aggressive advertising campaign and quite a few of the best gags in the movie were spoiled in the film’s trailer. The movie remains funny but a lot of moments could have landed with much more impact if they had the element of surprise. This film may benefit from the passage of time as future viewers will see it without the foreknowledge of the ads. As an offshoot of the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking, Neighbors has some of the same problems as its cinematic brethren. Namely, the regard for women is still problematic. Rose Byrne is the only woman in the film who is a full character; the rest of the women in the movie are idiots or eye candy and some of the jokes come at their expense. There are plenty of stupid men in the movie but because Rose Byrne’s character is the only woman who is defined the inequity between the sexes remains. The most serious flaw of Neighbors occurs in the ending. The picture reaches its climax but then continues to draw out the conclusion with a lot of coda sequences that are unnecessary and in some cases are out of character with the rest of the movie. These added sequences comes across as padding in order to extend the film’s running time to a feature length.

Bottom Line: Neighbors is a solid comedy that manages to deliver silly gags while also telling a compelling story with engaging characters. Although it’s not a deep movie it does have substance that distinguishes it from most other comedies and makes it all the more enjoyable.

Episode: #491 (May 18, 2014)